Stress is a major cause of weight gain but there are some effective ways to manage it and shed those unwanted kilos! Your body releases cortisol when you are stressed. Cortisol is your stress hormone and, its job is to regulate your metabolism so it’s immensely helpful to look at wellness techniques to assist in lowering cortisol. You can do this by making time for relaxation, improving your diet and exercise routine and practicing mindfulness techniques. You can manage your cortisol levels, so it doesn’t take control of your ability to maintain a healthy weight range.
What Is Cortisol?
Naturally produced by your body, cortisol is created by the adrenal glands located on your kidneys and is released when you’re under stress. Cortisol plays an important role in your body, including increasing blood sugar, reducing inflammation, suppressing the immune system, and assisting in nutrient metabolism. While critical to our survival, it can become dangerous in large doses. Once released in excessive quantities it can wreak havoc in your body’s most essential functions. It can also lead to a range of health problems, including slowing your metabolism leading to those unwanted kilos.
How Does Cortisol Cause Weight Gain?
Cortisol triggers your fat and carbohydrate metabolism creating a flood of energy in your body. While this is needed for survival, it does make you feel hungrier. Increased levels of cortisol have also been strongly connected with cravings for fatty, salty and sweet foods, all the things we should be avoiding right? As a result, you are more likely to have fast food than that nourishing meal. Excess levels of cortisol can cause your body to produce less testosterone. Less testosterone may lead to less muscle mass, as well as decrease the rate that your body burns calories.
One study in 59 healthy women found an association between elevated cortisol levels and an increase in appetite, which could potentially promote weight gain.
Another study found an association between a higher cortisol response and a higher amount of belly fat in a group of 172 men and women, suggesting that higher cortisol may lead to overeating.
When cortisol levels remain high, the following problems may occur; weight gain, high blood pressure, fatigue, changes in mood, irritability, flushed face, thinning skin, difficulty concentrating, and insulin resistance.
In addition, the weight that people gain from a rise in cortisol is often around the waist. Fat accumulated in this region is related to the development of cardiovascular disease, also known as “toxic fat.”
How to Prevent Future Health Problems
Joannah Braham our Move with Women Program Exercise Physiologist, suggests, “a holistic approach is key to maintaining healthy cortisol levels and feeling less stressed. Being active, getting enough sleep, spending time in nature and practising mind-body techniques are all especially beneficial for both the body and the mind.”
An important yet very easy relaxation technique often overlooked is the simple lost art of Deep Breathing. “Breathing slowly and deeply through the nose is associated with a relaxation response,” says James Nestor, author of Breath. As the diaphragm lowers, you’re allowing more air into your lungs and your body switches to a more relaxed state.
Exercise benefits health in all areas so it’s not surprising that it works with stress relief by reducing cortisol levels. Studies show that exercise can even bring down cortisol levels in the elderly and in people with major depressive disorder.
Poor sleep patterns may increase cortisol levels. The increased cortisol can affect memory, contribute to weight gain and even speed up the aging process.
Not many things beat a good night’s sleep. “When you’re not sleeping well, you are likely to feel more anxious, irritable and stressed. Like exercise, sleep is essential for well-being in many ways — including managing stress and keeping cortisol levels in control,” says Joannah.
Spend Time in Nature
Taking in the great outdoors is a great way to lower cortisol and calm your mind. The practice of “nature bathing” — basically spending time with nature and breathing the forest air — can bring down cortisol levels and lower stress.
Even though it may be something you have not given much thought to practices like yoga, tai chi, qi gong, mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises can be great stress reducers. Research tells us that mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy can bring down cortisol and feelings of stress. Yoga can even reduce high cortisol levels, heart rate and blood pressure.
You’ll also be able to avoid storing excess calories by taking in high quality foods rich in nutrients. If you are craving that quick fix, focus on eating mostly whole, plant-based foods. Making the decision to eat right isn’t that easy but keep reminding yourself how critical it is to your health and avoiding chronic illness, start thinking of food as medicine. By being vigilant of what you consume daily, the calories you take in will be converted into energy, rather than into fat and stored by the body.
Exercise is one of the best ways to take control of your stress hormones. It doesn’t really matter how you choose to do it, you can go out for a run, take a daily walk with your dog, family and friends or ‘Gym it’. Either way, exercising will help maintain your lean body mass. This is most important during prolonged periods of high cortisol levels (stress). Remember, there’s no miracle cure for raised cortisol. Exercise, eating right and relaxation are all great ways for lowering these damaging hormone levels that have become elevated due to a response to stress.
Ready to reduce your stress and take the step towards a more active and healthy life? Our qualified, friendly Move With Women trainers will help support your health and well-being goals, and introduce you to some interesting facts, tips and ideas about other health and well-being topics including sleep, nutrition and mindfulness.